Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heilemann and Halperin's Game Change

I read John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change (I won't even bother with the longest and worst subtitle I've seen in a long while), which had received attention in the blogosphere regarding whether political scientists would like it.  I did, though not because I felt it was going to inform me about how people vote or why elections are won.  It was a very fun, light, juicy book, and you can suck down the 400+ pages in short order, but the analysis can be summed up as follows:

Events that change the course of campaigns are game changers.  There are many kinds of game changers, and all of them spark change.

That's really about it, with lots of breathless writing and sweeping metaphors--it offers no new analytical insights into the race.  But the narrative definitely provides a very detailed behind-the-scenes view in the Bob Woodward mold.  It also leaves you (or should leave you) generally scratching your head about why Iowa is so important for launching presidential campaigns.  Hillary Clinton herself was still trying to figure out the rules, and spent $25 (!) million there.  That is just a bizarre way for campaigns to start, though her and Bill's tirades don't leave you feeling too sorry for them.  Neither John nor Elizabeth Edwards ends up looking very good, either.

As I often do when I read such books, I came away with the feeling that the life of a presidential candidate is entirely miserable, and I could not imagine doing it.  Perhaps that is why there are so many affairs, so many f-bombs, so much confusion, and even depression.  And near-vomiting: "Obama, who had a vicious stomach bug, spent much of the lunch trying not to puke on Clinton's shoes" (p. 418).

I lost track of the game changes because there were so many, but it doesn't really matter.  Heilemann and Halperin's view of politics is essentially that of individuals colliding into each other, a sort of chaos theory for politics that remains undeveloped and unexamined.  No matter--just ignore that and enjoy the story about the personalities.


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